Monday 9 April 2012

Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

No spoilers here......

Tasmania has had a very cold, blustery Easter weekend and there has been nothing to do except to find a very good book and curl up with it surrounded by hot drinks,  fuzzy dogs, a cat and a warm doona.

Fortunately I had a good library haul and have several TBR books within arm's reach.  I read an excellent review on another blog of Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth.  The blurb on the front cover states , A true story of the East End in the 1950's.  This is the book I chose to sit down with and began reading.

Once I began this book I could not put it down.  I could say the characters are real, of course, because it is a non fiction book but the stories of the families living in London at that time amidst poverty were incredibly tough yet  harrowing.  I grew up reading many books of American immigrants living in New York  in the early 1900's and I always enjoyed learning about their lives of coming to America.  I am not sure if those books had been censored and cleaned up a bit as they seemed to have happy endings. 

I was not prepared for the conditions the people in this book endured.  

The stories of the inhabitants in the  condemned dockside tenements next to bomb craters  in the east end in 1950's London ranged from hilarious to absolutely dire. 
The author's descriptions of the nuns she lived with in the convent where she trained were interesting and I grew quite attached to all of the nurses and the nuns in particular.

Sister Evangelina who presented as a very difficult dour old nurse was my favourite. The way her personality changed when she was with her patients and how she got onside with them was fascinating and often hilarious.  She was strictly a no nonsense type of person so the following description of how she dealt with a very old difficult mentally ill woman who lived in a condemned property with no roof was surprising to say the least.  Jen had been unable to get any response from Mrs Jenkins at all so she asked for Sister Evangelina's help.

Sister Evangelina took over the case;

"You're a tiresome old lady, we'll see what this does." Slowly she leaned over Mrs Jenkins and as she bent down she let out the most enormous fart. It rumbled on and on and just as I thought it had stopped it started all over again, in a higher key. I had never been so shocked in all my life.

Mrs Jenkins sat upright in her chair. Sister Evangelina called out; "Which way did it go, Nurse? Don't let it get out. It's over there by the door- catch it! Now it's by the window- get hold of it quick."

A throaty chuckle came from the armchair. "Cor that's better," said Sister Evangelina happily; "Nothing like a good fart to clear the system. Makes you feel ten years younger, eh, Mother Jenkins?"

The bundle of clothes shook, and the throaty chuckle developed into a real belly laugh. Mrs. Jenkins, who had never been heard to speak apart from obsessive questions about babies, laughed until the tears ran down her face.

" Quick! Under the chair. The cat's go' it. ge' it off him quick, e'll be sick."

The story of old Mrs Jenkins who Jen originally was repulsed by because of her mental health habits, her poverty and dirtiness was heartbreaking. Sister Evangelina taught her how to really know and understand this amazing woman and the absolute incredible tragedy she had experienced whilst living in the workhouse for 19 years. The stories that evolved after Sister Evangelina's first visit were hard to imagine. 

Travellin'  Penguin
I have never thought of myself as a sheltered  or naive person but the stories in this book truly opened my eyes to a way of life I could not comprehend.  

Never again will I complain about anything.  I think someone could pull my fingernails out and I would be grateful that I only had to experience that and not the many travesties the women, children and men experienced simply trying to survive at this time in this place. 

I will never understand how society could have allowed some of the practises it did especially in the workhouses where children were separated from their parents and husbands from wives, quite often,  never to be seen again.

The student nurses also had some great times when they were off duty. One weekend had  a small group of them deciding late one night to get the communal car that belonged to friends, " Lady Chatterley" and drive it to Brighton to swim at midnight. This after an evening of eating , drinking and partying. 

"Lady Chatterley was not a family car, but an obsolete 1920's London taxi. She was magnificent and huge, and on occasion actually achieved a speed of forty mph. The engine had to be coaxed into life with a strange starting handle, inserted beneath the elegant radiator. Considerable muscle power was needed and the boys usually took it in turns to do the cranking. 

The front bonnet opened like two huge beetle wings when it was required to get at the engine and four majestic coach lanps shone on either side of the fluted radiator. There were running boards from front to back. The wheels were spoked. The capacious interior smelled of the best leather upholstery, polished wood and brass. 

She was their pride and joy. The boys garaged her somewhere in Marylebone and spent all their spare time coaxing her frail old engine into life, and titivating her majestic body. 

But there was still more to Lady Chatterley. Chimney pots had been added and flower boxes attached. The windows were curtained, which meant that the driver couldn't see out of the rear window, but noone bothered about little things like that. The car also boasted brass door knockers and letter boxes. 

Her name was painted in gold across the front, and a notice at the rear read: DON'T LAUGH, MADAM, YOUR DAUGHTER MAY BE INSIDE.

...a crowd of about 15 climbed into Lady Chatterley and she set off amid cheers, at a steady 25 mph down Marylebone High Street"

I won't divulge any other anecdotes in this book because it is one that truly unravels as one reads it. I do guarantee though that one minute you will be laughing and the next big tears will roll down your face and if someone interrupts you in the middle of it you might want to throw a cushion at them and tell them to go away.

The author is a genius at describing her many memories in a direct yet very personable, compassionate way. She truly respected her clients and no matter what their circumstances she appeared able to rise to any occasion to deal with them.

Evidently the BBC is producing this as a series 2012.
Will be awhile before it gets to Australia
These nurses really did live and work on another plane.  The words angels and saints may be cliched but I cannot think of any other way to describe them. 


  1. Thse are wonderful stories and I recommend heartily her other books as well.

    Hopefully when the programme gets to you out there you will enjoy it. It is excellent and true to the books as well as being extremely well cast. It is being commissioned for a new series as well.

  2. Thank you, I only found out about the series on tv when I was looking for a photo of the book online that was better than the library copy I have. I will certainly look for it. NO doubt it will come on to dvd once it is aired. Her book about the workhouses interests me but I need a break from it now so will read a Penguin before I chase the others.


I love comments. I promise to try very hard to reply to any message left.